What happens when your boss loses their job come January?
If that boss is mayor of a big city — this one, let’s say — you and about 800 people like you are looking for work. It happens every four or eight years to hundreds of staff members and employees in Philadelphia City Hall when administrations change. After the first of the year, a new mayor will be inaugurated and will bring along a staff of their own. Meanwhile, top staff members are figuring out what to do for work if they’re not kept on by the next mayor.
“Historically, the folks who are within the mayor’s office do not stay,” said Erica Atwood, a top aide in Nutter’s administration. “Administrative staff will probably cross over, and executive staff do not. And that’s a function of the fact that a lot of us are Nutter’s confidants.”
Atwood, who currently serves as the Director of Black Male Engagement in Nutter’s administration, isn’t banking on being retained by the next mayor and won’t take the risk of not planning for the future if she’s not. She’s floating ideas of starting her own business, something that would likely focus on consulting.
Of the thousands of employees in the city, the mayor will appoint about 100 people to be key staff members. On top of that, The Inquirer reported earlier this year, a mayor will make about 700 appointments to various boards and commissions. That’s a lot of upcoming hiring.
At this point it’s unclear who from Mayor Nutter’s staff would transition to become employees of Jim Kenney, the former councilman widely viewed as the presumptive mayor. He’s the Democratic nominee in a city with a D to R margin of about 7-1.
Kenney has said that he would keep on Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey if the top cop wants to stay on in his administration, and he also told The Inky he’d be willing to offer jobs to Ed Neilson and Wilson Goode Jr., both councilmen who lost their seats in the May primary. However, Neilson has plans to run for a vacant House seat in a special election.
In an interview with Philly Mag, Kenney said he plans to have weaker deputy mayors and a stronger managing director, adding at the time that “patronage has its place.” He also may keep on staffers from his campaign, a la his predecessor. About a dozen top staffers from Nutter’s mayoral campaign remain on his staff, including Atwood, who served as his deputy financial director during the campaign and went on to lead a staff in his administration.
So what are Nutter loyalists planning? Well, some may still get jobs in City Hall. Several insiders say there’s a sense in the building that turnover between Nutter and Kenney will be different than it was between former Mayor John Street and Nutter. It comes down to Nutter and Kenney having more similar philosophies about governance than Street and Nutter did.
The two were political foes, and The Inquirer has described interactions between the transitioning administrations as “tense, at best,” noting that when new Nutter staff members entered their offices, they were still littered with trash from the Street administration.
Kenney could also retain some members of his campaign staff. Some have said Kenney would be smart to keep campaign manager Jane Slusser around on his staff full-time. His office has also retained a number of lower-level administrative employees, including Nandi O’Connor, a 23-year-old former fellow with the campaign who was kept on as a scheduler post-primary.
“I was pleasantly surprised because I wasn’t expecting them to call and offer me anything,” O’Connor, of South Philly, said. “I think the experience was rewarding enough.”
A number of staffers ranging from top aides down to administrative employees have said just having a mayoral campaign or mayoral administration on the resume is a booster. Atwood said having that line can make it easier to get high-level positions in other areas, and pointed to Ami Patel Hopkins, who served as Deputy Education Officer to Nutter in the Mayor’s Office of Education, where she had worked since 2008.
She’s now the the Vice President of Teaching, Learning and Innovation at the Education Fund, where she spearheads the group’s efforts to to enhance the preparation, support and networking of teachers across the city.
“So you have folks who kind of stay in the vein of what they were doing,” Atwood said, “but being in the Mayor’s Office of a large city, it allows you the ability to make a big career jump into wherever you end up next.”
Mayoral campaigns help, too. Take Chance Toland-Wilson, a former fellow who worked on Kenney’s campaign on the field team and in the communications office. He’s now gearing up for an entry-level position at Vanguard, the world’s largest mutual fund company. Why’d they hire him? The practical experience he got from working for a potential next mayor.
“I thought i was going to have a big problem,” Toland-Wilson, 22, said. “But we went in the interview and did mock client calls. That was my strongest point and what got me the job.”
This turnover isn’t unique to the executive branch. When you’re a legislative aide and your boss doesn’t get re-elected, your job goes away, too. But there’s a good thing about working closely with council: The alliances.
Councilmembers are known to take care of each other’s own. One City Hall staff member who asked not to be identified pointed out to Billy Penn that allies like the union types — Councilman Bobby Henon and now-former Councilmen Jim Kenney and Ed Neilson — were known to take care of each others staffers when they shuffled around, like when Kenney resigned from Council to run for mayor. The same types of pickups of aides and staff members could go on between Council friends like Tasco and probable new councilwoman Parker.
And yet, some other top staff members in Council offices and in the administration will take matters into their own hands and run for public office themselves. It’s what Derek Green, former Special Counsel to Councilwoman Marian Tasco, did this year. With the help of his boss’ vote-whipping talents, Green took the highest number of votes in the May primary with 67,976 votes, besting second place by more than 5,000 votes.
Kellan White, an aide in Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown’s office, has been rumored to be making a run for an open state House seat in the 200th district. He was listed by Crowdpac, a site that makes it easier for people to learn about political candidates by scoring them, as a potential candidate for the open seat. White hasn’t yet publicly stated whether or not he’ll make a run, but if he does, he could be going up against another aide — Tonyelle Cook-Artis, the chief of staff of state Rep. Cherelle Parker, who resigned her seat to run for Council.
And for those staff members who can’t pick up a job in government and can’t go it in the private sector?
Some told Billy Penn it may just be time to go to law school.